Children and Families Bill – you need to take action now [2]

Debs writes

We recently wrote about some of the changes being proposed in the Children and Families Bill that will not benefit families.  We looked at the duty to identify SEN, the annual review, the time limits and also the format of the Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP).

SENREFORM-Magnify

Today, we want to raise your awareness of other issues with the proposed changes and would like to thank Jane McConnell and all at IPSEA for helping to raise awareness of these.

Admission to Special Academies:

At present any child with SEN but without a statement must be educated in a mainstream school.  In order to attend a Special School, a child must have their needs assessed and the LA then have have a duty to fund the provision identified by the assessment.  This, in principle, protects children being placed in potentially inappropriate schools.  There are no exceptions to this in the current legislation.

This principle still exists in clause 34(2) of the proposed Bill but an exception has been introduced. Special Academies (including Free Schools), will now be able to admit children or young people with SEN permanently into the school without them having an assessment or an EHC Plan in place – if they are given permission by the Department for Education.   Now, in theory, this sounds great.  Getting your child into a special academy placement without having to go through the statutory assessment process (especially as the new Bill doesn’t put time limits on the process).  However, there are two issues with this:

1.  It  undermines the principle that mainstream schools MUST be enabled to make provision for ALL children without a statement/EHCP and also MOST children with statements/EHCPs – so if a mainstream school knows there is a Special Academy nearby, there will be a strong temptation to point the parents in their direction, rather than take the child themselves and have to cater for their needs.  So no aspiration necessary for the mainstream school to improve their teaching to include children with SEN with or without a statement or EHCP; and

2.  If a child with SEN is admitted to a Special Academy without EHCP – what happens when things go wrong?  What if the Academy cannot meet the needs of the child?  What if the child, due to no assessement of needs, is placed in the wrong Academy?  There is no duty for the LA to fund the provision without an EHCP and the parents will have nothing to challenge the school or LA with if there is no EHCP.  What about the Health and Care provision?  If no assessement or EHCP, how will the school and family know they are meeting the Health and Care needs of the child?  Yes, there will be minimum standards that all schools must adhere to – but let’s be honest, have you ever tried to find your LA’s miminum standards and if successful, actually make sense of them?   There is of course the NHS constitution and the Children’s Act but very often, to access the Social Care side of support, a statement is currently needed so no EHCP could, in theory mean, no access to that support.

We need the DfE to seriously consider this option.  Having an assessment ensures that the child’s needs are accurately recognised and provision put in place.

Re-assessment of Needs:

At present, a re-assessment is the same as an assessment.  If a child or young person’s needs change, then a further assessment can be requested and if agreed, then the LA has to comply with the statutory assessment duties.  This includes time limits, consulting with the professionals named in the Regulations (education professionals, educational psychologist, social services and health services).

However, in the proposed Bill, a new concept of re-assessment is being introduced.  LAs will be allowed to decide what format a re-assessment takes.  There will no longer be the same duties to consult and obtain evidence from the professionals named above and they can also choose to review just one area of the EHC Plan.

Also, there is no duty for the LA to conclude the process of re-assessment at the two points which would trigger a right of appeal to the SEND Tribunal (i.e. when the LA decides not to issue an amended EHC Plan or when the LA issues a new EHC Plan with which the parent disagrees).

So basically, if your child’s needs change, the LA can re-assess but may only reassess one part of the Plan, e.g.  the health part but no need for them to reassess the Education and Care part of the Plan.  As we all know, each of these impacts on the other which is why the idea of an EHC Plan was so popular with parents.  One plan that looked at their child holistically, no need to tell your story more than once, everyone working together, etc.  So why have a joint plan, why jointly commission, why fund “Working in Partnership” workshops if once the EHC Plan is published, any re-assessment reverts back to individual agencies.

If you are not happy with the proposed amended EHC Plan or if the LA decides not to issue an amended EHC Plan, then the proposed Bill (in its current form) does not give you any right to appeal to the SEND Tribunal.

Again, this Bill is introducing changes which, if we are honest, are based on every LA existing in a world we don’t live in.  Yes, in an ideal world, LA’s would never not re-assess, they would always produce an amended Plan if the child’s needs changed, the plan would always look at the child’s need in every aspect of their life and the LA would unreservedly support families if their current school did not meet the needs of their child.  However, we live in the real world.

We need to take action now, before the Children and Families Bill becomes the Children and Families Act.  If you want to know how to take action, please visit the IPSEA website

Children and Families Bill – you need to act now [1]

Debs writes….

sen reform special needs jungle

Last week, I had the pleasure of listening to Jane McConnell (IPSEA‘s Chief Executive) speak at the Towards a Positive Conference.

As Jane spoke, I realised that the messages about the Bill are not getting out – either people think the changes don’t affect them or the changes just won’t happen.

However, if you have a child or young person aged 0 to 25 with ANY additional needs, then you need to take five minutes out of your busy day (and as we are parents too, we know how chaotic our days can be) but the changes being proposed WILL affect you and not all of the proposed changes will help families.

This week we will be sharing with you the changes you need to be aware of and also saying how you can take action.  Please share these posts with your friends and colleagues.

Which proposed changes will reduce or remove your current rights?

Duty to Assess SEN:  At present, there is a PROACTIVE duty to identify the needs of children and young people with SEN via assessment:  “Proactive = Acting in advance to deal with an expected difficulty”.

In the Children and Families Bill (in its current form), this has been reduced to a duty to identify.  “Identify = To ascertain the origin, nature, or definitive characteristics”.  There is no duty on the LA to be proactive.  This is a weaker duty on the LA and will cause issues for many parents who are just entering our Special Needs Jungle looking for help and support for their child.

We need the DfE to ensure that LAs are proactive in identifying needs.

Time Limits:  At present, your LA has a maximum of six weeks from receiving the request for statutory assessment (i.e. starting the statementing process) to decide if they will assess and then they have a further 10 weeks to decide whether they will issue a statement.

The Children and Families Bill, in its current form, will not provide a time limit by which LAs need to make a decision about whether they will issue a Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP).  Once they decide to issue, there will be a time limit of 20 weeks (from the initial request) to issue, but as a mum who has gone through this process four times (once to be turned down), I can remember how anxious I was after my application had gone in, waiting to see if they would agree to assess.

Then, again, the stress I felt when I was waiting for the decision as to whether they would issue a statement.  However, I had taken advice and knew that there was a time frame in which the LA had to make a decision and these dates were clearly marked on my calendar.

I cannot imagine the pressure that parents starting the process  under the Children’s and Families Act will face without the security of time limits.  Yes, some LAs will do this promptly and will act fairly but as we all know, in the real world, there are also many, many LAs who won’t.

We need the DfE to be prescriptive in this.  This Bill is supposed to make our life less stressful, not more!

1209643_dream_graphEducation, Health & Care Plans:  At present, the law says that a statement has to be in a standard format. As set out in the SEN regulations it has to “be in such form and contain such information as may be prescribed”.  However, the Children and Families Bill, in its current form, no longer requires regulations to prescribe a standard form for EHCP.  Basically this means each LA can produce their own version.

Currently Part 2 of the statement has to state the educational needs of the child.  Part 3 has to state the provision to meet the educational needs in part 2.  The provision must be specific and also quantified.

If LAs can produce their own version of EHCP with no regulations about what they have to put in there – what can I say?  We would all love to live in an ideal world where every LA would do everything  possible to meet the needs of every child and no LA would even dream of  spending valuable resources on very expensive legal representation to do battle with parents on their behalf.

Unfortunately, however, we all have to live in the real world  – with budget cuts, lack of resources, lack of working in partnership and in some areas, total lack of empathy and of course, the hugely expensive legal representation that the majority of parents cannot compete against.

We need the DfE to regulate the content of EHCPs and ensure that the educational, health and care needs of our children and young people along with the educational, health and care provision to meet those needs is in every EHCP.

Annual Reviews:  Currently, there is a duty on LAs to inform parents, children or young people of the outcome of the Annual Review.  Once this is communicated, parents and children/young people can appeal to the SEND tribunal if they are unhappy.  However, the Children and Families Bill, in it current form, no longer has this duty.  So, LAs don’t, in theory, have to tell you.

In addition, there are  current duties such as enabling parents to participate in the decision making; the requirement to obtain up to date information before an Annual Review and share it with parents; parents to be able to make their views known and for those to be circulated; the compulsory attendance of professionals at the review meeting at the key states of a child/young person’s education and transition arrangements out of education.

Guess what?  Yes, I think you are starting to get the general idea – there is no duty for any of the above in the Children and Families Bill.

We need the DfE to address this.  Once again, some LAs and educational settings will do all of the above without legislation in place but so many more will only do what they absolutely have to.

If you want to know how to take action, please visit IPSEA’s website

We will be posting soon about some other changes which will reduce or remove your current rights and some outstanding issues with the proposals of the Children and Families Bill.

Children and Families Bill – initial views

Finally, the wait is over and the Children and Families Bill, which includes the SEN reforms, has been published. Debs spent yesterday poring over it and here are her initial views:

***

c&fbillimageJust after 10am yesterday, the Children and Families Bill was released and I started to plough through.  Not only did I  have to read this Bill, I  wanted to compare it to the draft Bill published last September, the Select Committee’s pre-scrutiny recommendations from just before Christmas and the numerous responses.

All of this with a child off school with a chest infection and a husband at home who wanted to chat about decorating the bathroom – oh, and no in-house lawyer on hand to help.

The first thing I looked at was whether the Bill strengthened the involvement and rights of the parent and child (or young person)?  Well, you’ll be pleased to know it has.  There is a whole new clause, right at the beginning of Part 3 of the Bill (the part that deals with SEN), which reads:

In exercising a function under this Part in the case of a child or young person, a local authority in England must have regard to the following matters in particular—

(a) the views, wishes and feelings of the child and his or her parent, or the young person;

(b) the importance of the child and his or her parent, or the young person,participating as fully as possible in decisions relating to the exercise of the function concerned;

(c) the importance of the child and his or her parent, or the young person, being provided with the information and support necessary to enable participation in those decisions;

(d) the need to support the child and his or her parent, or the young person, in order to facilitate the development of the child or young person and to help him or her achieve the best possible educational and other outcomes.

As a parent, I am reading this as “Dear  Local Authority, you have to listen to me and my child(ren), and you have to give us the information we need in order for us to have an informed view”.  Now, there are probably 1001 legal-type people shouting at this post and saying the local authority “must have regard to” is not the same as the local authority “must” and yes, I know there is a difference but I am trying to be positive.

Throughout the Bill, clauses have been added or amended to clarify that parents and young people must be involved and their views listened to.  So thank you Mr T, this is a move in the right direction.

Rights & Duties

My second question was to look at whether there was now a duty for health to provide a service.  In the last Bill, there was a lot of criticism that “joint commissioning” was not enough.  In fact the Education Select Committee believed strengthened duties on health services were critical to the success of the legislation

Well, now in the definition of “Special Education Provision” we have:

21 Special educational provision, health care provision and social care provision

(5) Health care provision or social care provision which is made wholly or mainly for the purposes of the education or training of a child or young person is to be treated as special educational provision (instead of health care provision or social care provision).

This doesn’t put a duty on health but the LA do have a duty to secure the special educational provisions.  There is no clarity however, as to which health care provisions this will actually mean and as there is still no duty on health with respect to the provisions within the EHCP, there are no guarantees.

Next, we considered if the new Bill clarified that parents can apply for a EHCP assessment and the answer is yes.

36 Assessment of education, health and care needs

(1)A request for a local authority in England to secure an EHC needs assessment for a child or young person may be made to the authority by the child’s parent, the young person or a person acting on behalf of a school or post-16 institution.

There appears to be no timescales for the LA to respond within the Bill, but we are constantly being told that the “devil will be in the detail” so this, surely, has to be announced in the draft Regulations which are currently being compiled.

So, on to the next question “is mediation still compulsory” (an oxymoron if ever I heard one)?

And the answer is no.  It’s still an option for families who wish to go down this route before Tribunal but no longer compulsory.

What about disabilities?

So, I started to relax a little now but then had a  big reality check.  One huge (or as my son was said “gi-normous”) omission from the new Bill.  Disability.  Or to be more precise, disability without a special educational need.  If your child has a disability and health and social care needs but does not have a special educational need then I’m sorry but you’re not part of the Plan.

Despite several charities protesting and high profile campaigns, it would appear that the Government will not be providing the same opportunities to some of the children who need them the most.

In the DfE’s case for change, it stated “Disabled children and children with SEN tell us that they can feel frustrated by a lack of the right help at school or from other services”.

In the Green Paper, it said “The vision for reform set out in this Green Paper includes wide ranging proposals to improve outcomes for children and young people who are disabled or have SEN” and “This Green Paper is about all the children and young people in this country who are disabled, or identified as having a special educational need

All of the proposals were clearly for disabled children AND children with SEN, not disabled children with SEN.  So, what has happened?  Every Disabled Child Matters has already commented on this and I will be supporting their campaign to give disabled children the same rights as those with SEN.  When they launched the Green Paper, the DfE set out their cart and made us an offer, they clearly said “disabled children and children with SEN”.  We all hoped  that they were really listening to our families and then they changed the rules without explanation.

If you’re interested in what other groups have to say in response to the publication, I’ve listed all I can find here, if you know of others, let us know.

Common sense prevails with more time to test the SEN reform proposals

Minister, Edward Timpson at the Select Committee today

Education Minister, Edward Timpson, has, it seems, listened to the concerns that so many, including Special Needs Jungle, have voiced – that the pace of SEN reform is too fast and more time needs to be given to learn from the pathfinder trials. At the Education SEN select committee on Tuesday, he announced the extension of the Pathfinders for a further 18 months to run through to September 2014. This is six months after the the bill was originally slated to pass into law and I, for one, welcome it. He did, initially, say he still wanted the bill to be passed by the original date, however.

The Minister said, “The overwhelming view is that we are moving in the right direction, but we want to get this right and if that means listening for a little longer, then I am prepared to do that.

In response to concerns from some that the new bill will remove rights that are already existing, Mr Timpson offered assurances that families’ current protections under the existing statementing system are intended to be carried through to the new system. This includes the right to request an assessment, which will also include parents, GPs and Health Visitors. Earlier, parent representatives at the meeting had highlighted the issue that the wording in the current bill did not make it clear that local authorities still had a duty to respond to a request for an assessment within a specified time period. Mr Timpson did not give a clear answer about imposing statutory time scales to ensure that local authorities could not drag out an assessment.

Mr Timpson said, “In no way shape or form is there an intention to water down the protections that parents currently have and if that requires some nuances to the drafting in the clauses that are currently before the committee, then I’m happy to go back and have a closer look at.”

Mr Timpson was at pains to point out that the purpose of the reforms was not to save money  – in fact, he said, spending on SEN had increased from £2.7 billions  in 2004/5 to £5.7 billions in 2012/11

The Minister also said that the Department for Education is working closely with the Department of Health to ensure health play a greater part in a new SEN and disability system. This was in response to concerns that in the draft bill at the moment, only local authorities have a duty to provide the therapies and support specified in a plan.

Regarding the health issue, Sharon Smith of Hampshire Parent Voice, part of the SE7 pathfinder, illustrated it using personal concerns relating to a duty on health to provide the specified therapy and care. She cited her daughter, who has Down’s Syndrome, needing speech and language therapy and if this came under health provision and wasn’t forthcoming, there would be no way to appeal or ask for a judicial review.

Mr Timpson said they will be looking at the NHS mandate and at redress in the NHS constitution, as well as ways to forge links between Joint Strategic Needs Assessments and Health and Wellbeing Boards.

Extension of pathfinders

Mr Timpson explained his decision to extend the pathfinders from March next year to September 2014 saying that in some areas of the trials there was already a grounding of good evidence (not quite sure which ones he means) but in other areas they still need more evidence- for example personal budgets- for the right regulations and a new Code of Practice to be formulated. By Next March, the bill still would not be on the statue books and so they would use that gap to learn from the pathfinders.

When pressed on the question of when the legislation would be introduced if the pathfinders were going to continue until September 2014, the Minister said, “I want to make sure we get legislation right. If that means a short delay in introduction of bill, so be it. But it is the parliamentary authorities who have the final say in what legislation is going to be introduced, when.

Which is very handy, it seems to me.

Mediation

When challenged about the proposal for mediation to be compulsory, the Minister said that there would be no in-built delay as a consequence of there being mediation, in that the two month period in which an appeal can be triggered would not be affected, as they anticipate mediation to take place within the first month. His answer to the question of capacity of mediation services was somewhat confusing, however. It also seems to imply that parents can still appeal in the same two month window as they can now with no delay. This needs further clarification.

Transitioning to the new system & legal status

The parent and service user panel

Questions were raised about how to transition from the current system to the new one for those children who already had statements. Mr Timpson said he wanted to avoid ‘blind panic’ and so the transition needed to be systematically and carefully introduced. He wanted to assure parents that the current elements of their child’s statement would continue in an EHCP with the same legal standing and EHCPs would have the same legal status as statements.  All current rights that parents have, he said, would be protected through the legislation.

Addressing worries that there is only a legal duty for the education part of an EHCP to be delivered, the Minister said that joint commissioning would give a duty to health and social care to cooperate and work with education and parents. I’m not sure I’m convinced about this, myself, and I’m sure many of my colleagues in the pathfinders will feel the same way.

For a transition from a statement to an EHCP, he said there would be obvious points – for example at an annual review or post 16 instead of moving to an LDA they would transition to an EHCP, but Mr Timpson said it was something they would need to think very carefully about. He didn’t think there is a single cut off for all children, but they would use the pathfinders to provide evidence on the best way forward.

With the all-encompassing approach of an EHCP, questions have been raised about what happens if a young person is out of education but still requires input from health and/or social care and Mr Timpson appeared to  indicate that local authorities would have a duty (a legal duty??) to try to get these young people back into education. He acknowledged there were difficulties when a young person was in higher education as they had their own structures but did believe that it was important to bring apprenticeships under the auspices of an EHCP.

Additionally, if a young person takes a year out at, for example 18, they will have a right to ‘reactivate’ an EHCP if they come back into education and if it if decided they no longer meet criteria, they will have the right, themselves, to register an appeal.

There has been talk of redefining Special Educational Needs but the Minister said the current definition was the one that was intended to be carried through, but as it was something they wanted to get right, they would continue to carefully consider the issue.

Terminology in the draft bill has been called into question and Mr Timpson said that the term ‘set out’ was intended to be the same as the existing ‘specify’ and it was not a  way of trying to realign what may or may not be available. Which does beg the question, if that’s what is meant, maybe they should have avoided controversy and said that to start off with.

Code of Practice

With the reforms comes a need for a new SEN Code of Practice and many believe that this should undergo the scrutiny of parliament. Mr Timpson said that he believed a new CoP should be a ‘living organic document’ that is concise and can be updated in a more natural way than going to parliament every time a change needs to be made. However, although he seemed on the one hand to be saying there would not be a consultation, he then said that there would be close involvement from parent-carer forums and a need to make sure they play a part. He did say that he was still listening to views that there should be a different route.

A new Code of Practice, Mr Timpson said, would be a document that parents can easily access and that would be clear what their rights are and what the process is for their child’s journey. It would include information about the EHCP, Local Offer and Personal Budgets but he didn’t want it to be labyrinthine. It must be effective, he said and that was why the pathfinders were important in informing that.

Local Offer

The Minister said that regarding the Local Offer, it was not their intention that it would be a duty for the local authority to provide the content of their local offer. However, he then said a key area that it should address is that on the face of the local offer should be information on how a young person could seek redress if they don’t receive the services laid out in it. I must admit I’m a bit confused here.

In the previous committee hearing, the experts present said they believed that there should be a national framework of minimum standards for a Local Offer. In response, the minister said that what was clear is that they want a Local Offer to genuinely reflect what parents and young people want that is local to them with strong local accountability. He said that there would be, in the new CoP, key areas the Local Offer should cover but he didn’t want to be prescriptive.

He implied that it would be up to parents to confront a local authority if what was available to them was not of the same standard as that in another authority.

In my opinion, the average parent of a special needs child doesn’t have the time or energy to go about researching what is available in other LAs and start demanding it from their own. This is why a national minimum standard is a good idea, Mr T. You cannot expect parents to police the Local Authority and its Local Offer – it isn’t reasonable or fair.

The Minister said a national framework was not currently the intention, but they would give it more consideration and I hope that they do for the very reason I have just given.

Congrats to the parents from Hampshire and the young people who made such good points clearly and concisely in their part of the proceedings. I agreed with the points they made completely and they did a really good job!

You can view the live video feed from the Select Committee on the Parliament UK website.

SEN Reforms: professional views to the select committee

The Education Select Committee yesterday heard from various witnesses about the draft legislation on Special Education Needs.

Over two and a half hours, professionals gave their views about the draft bill. In this first of two sessions of oral evidence, the Committee heard from local authorities, health, SEN organisations, educational institutions and OFSTED.

A snapshot of the SEN select committee hearing

One of the major concerns that was voices by the professionals throughout the hearing, which I watched online, was the lack of statutory duty on health to ensure that they provide for the needs of children who will have an EHC Plan, even though that came with complexities and difficulties.

Peter Gray from the Special Needs Consultancy said there was an issue for parents around the fact that a single agency (the local authority) would have to enforce commitments from another agency without the authority to see it through and so any agency named to provide for a child’s needs should be duty-bound to do that.

Another issue that was generally agreed upon among the witnesses surrounded the ‘local offer’. Most believed that any local offer should be framed around a national framework to avoid the potential for post-code lotteries. This could be, for example, a national offer with a quality framework and local variation. This would mean that there would be a consistency of provision for every child with SEN, wherever they are in the country, whether or not they have an EHC plan.

It was noted that the local offer was not individualised and it need to be made clearer what was required – was it a directory of services? Would there be parental entitlement or  expected pathways and would it properly include schools and be inspected by OFSTED?

Christine Terrey, Executive Headteacher of Grays school and Southdown Junior school, said that many schools had no idea what would be required of them for a local offer and had no idea of what to put in it. Another witness said they believed that if parents knew what was available by law locally, they would have less need to pursue a ‘piece of paper’.

A third main theme was whether there should be a delay in the legislation – something I believe should happen. Kathryn Boulton of Blackpool’s Children’s Services (which is not a pathfinder authority) said she believed that there had not been sufficient time and many pathfinders are still in the recruiting phases – which I know to be true. She also said there was a lack of clarity about how personal budgets should work and that the learning from the pathfinders should be allowed to develop to allow the bill to be properly informed.

Jo Webber, of the NHS Confederation explained that the new Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) should, in the main, be authorised by next April, but under the new system, provision for a child with severe or complex needs or a physical condition would need commissioning from up to eight different parts of the NHS. There was, she said, a need to seek more clarity, which would take time.

Dr Charles Palmer, from the CYP service in Leicestershire said he believed there should be a delay because expectations of great improvements to the system have been raised among parents’ groups and there is a real danger that with the budget restrictions those expectations simply would not be met. He said that in his local authority they were already restricting the range of children and young people who were being supported through the process so that they would have enough money to help the most needy children.

Another issue that was highlighted was how to proceed with the reforms, taking into consideration that delegated funding for schools was already in existence and couldn’t be clawed back because of the minimum funding guarantee. Kathryn Boulton said that funding was not aligned and uncoupling delegated funding was going to be very complicated and could lead to variances across the country. Because of the Minimum Funding Guarantee it might not be doable.

One point – very close to my own heart – was the provision of mental health services from CAMHS. As I have written before, there is a very long wait to access even an initial appointment from CAMHS, let alone the appropriate follow up care. Kathryn Brown said that the bill should include a specific reference regarding mental health services in the overarching mental health provision. She noted that mental health needs very often run alongside complex SEN and there should be a requirement for mental health provision to be outlined clearly.

Regarding the draft bill proposal for compulsory mediation, a question was raised about lack of a mechanism to provide arbitration between health and education. Peter Gray believed there should be joint accountability between health and education and a duty to cooperate.

In his evidence, Dr Charles Palmer, said he did not believe mediation should be compulsory, while Brian Gale of the National Deaf Children’s Society said that if mediation was mandatory then it made no sense that there was no statutory obligation on health to provide or to mediate and without this, there would be no improvement.

On the issue of transition, there were concerns about coordination, in that adult services do not mesh with those for children and young people regarding the ages at which services stop. Jo Webber said the extension of an EHCP up to the age of to 25 would have an impact on health service provision and costs. Peter Gray said these costs, which included admin, monitoring, provision and review costs should not be underestimated.

The reforms also raised the question, said Kathryn Brown of the costs on local authorities of moving from old to new system and great thought needed to be put into resources and capacity. Would children and young people with a statement be automatically moved to an EHCP and would people post-19 but under 25 who had ceased an educational statement need to be reassessed. The draft bill provisions do not have this clarity and the time and mechanics needed should not be underestimated.

It has been my personal understanding during our pathfinder that children with statements would be left until there was a reassessment need at a review or a transition point was reached, but this is not clearly stated in the bill.

Kathryn Brown also believed that an EHCP should be maintained for a vulnerable Post-16 young person even if they leave education, if they enter an apprenticeship or if they go into custody. The latter should be needed for safeguarding reasons.

Dr Palmer said that the timetable for an EHCP should be linked to that of NHS waiting times – 18 weeks, instead of as at present, six months from referral to statement. Additionally, through the commissioning process there should be clear children’s leads from NHS commission, through local area teams and to clinical commissioning groups to ensure that children had a clear voice at each level.

One vital issue that was raised is that of the SEN Code of Practice, a significant document for schools and parents alike. The CoP will need to be revised or completely rewritten to come into line with the new reforms but, at present, it was noted that there is not duty for t to undergo parliamentary scrutiny and this was unacceptable. Brian Gale said that the new CoP needed to be right from the start – you couldn’t risk loose ends and then find that for the first cohort of children it didn’t work, thus jeapordising their provision and having to fix the new CoP retrospectively.

Mr Gale also related that in his experience, parents do not believe the bill will make much difference because services are being cut every day and it is very difficult to convince them that against this backdrop, there will be an improvement.

He also noted that when it came to a review of a plan, it seemed that only providers were consulted and not the child or the parents and looking at issue of funding – everything is being discussed by the Schools Forum where there is no representation from parents or young people.

Regarding the definitions for SEN, Philipa Stobbs of the SEC/Council for Disabled Children, said they would like the term ‘disabled’ to be clearly included in the definition of Special Needs for an EHCP, as some children with disabilities do not need special educational provision. Any new definition must improve the professional decision-making process for when a child has SEN because at the moment, the definition was too narrow.

Other points raised included:

  • A statement used the term ‘specify’ while the draft bill, at the moment, used the term ‘sets out’ which will only give rise to wooly EHCPs.
  • An EHCP should have broad outcomes and specific objectives, for example age appropriate language, ability to eat independently.
  • Where the green paper had a broader vision, the draft bill did not deliver on that
  • There was a concern that some children with a ‘Band A’ statement would not qualify for an EHCP but there was a belief that all children with current statements should automatically do so.

I hope that in the next session there will be strong input from parents themselves. It is, I believe, scheduled for 6th November. You can watch the whole of the first session here: http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=11597

 

Deadline day for SEN select committee consultation – some views

Today is the deadline for the Education Select Committee’s call  for responses to the draft SEN bill.

I’ve seen a number of responses so far. Some are concerned about the legal issues raised by the bill, believing that it reduces the statutory protection for special educational needs and children. I have no legal expertise whatsoever and so am not in a position to offer any analysis of this, but from the position of having background knowledge from working within the pathfinder, some of those potential issues highlighted do not seem completely accurate. However, having said that, these opinions are a vital addition to the responses so that the select committee has as wide a range of opinion as possible to consider.

As a parent-carer forum, Family Voice Surrey, for which I am co-chair, has approached our response from our experience as parents of children with SEN and disabilities and from our knowledge of the Surrey/SE7 pathfinder . Our response is broadly similar to other parent-carer forums who have had the same experiences. It would be wrong for us to include any legal issues as that is not our area of expertise and simply parroting the views of others is unnecessary when they can speak for themselves.

Parts of the bill are clumsily worded, so that if you have been working on the pathfinder, you might understand what the intention is, but it has not been stated clearly or in sufficient detail and this is a huge shame. Quite possibly this is an indication of it being put out too soon with insufficient consideration of the fact that SEN is a hugely complex and broad area. This failure has led some to believe that the government is trying to strip away SEN support by the back door. Again, there may be a Mr Burns figure rubbing his hands with glee in the dark corridors of the Treasury at the prospect of saving money on the backs of disabled children, but this is quite a cynical view. Which is not to say it isn’t true.

My co-chair, Angela Kelly, and I recently took part in an interview with SQW who are evaluating the SE7 (South East group of pathfinder authorities) for feedback and we reiterated our view that the reforms will not be what they might if the pace continues as it is. Corners will inevitably be cut with the trials in some areas to meet artificial deadlines and so a thorough testing of the proposals will not have been carried out. And let’s remember who these reforms are supposedly intended for – the stated aim is that they end the adversarial system and benefit children with special needs and their families. It is not, claim the DfE, a cost-cutting exercise in itself.

But SEN is not just about statements, it is about providing the right solutions for children with complex needs, early intervention, transition, personal budgets and more. With the new EHCP, this will also bring in NHS health and psychological support from CAMHS. It is a massive undertaking and even though people are working very hard to try to make this happen, rushing it for political reasons (for what other reason can there be?) is detrimental to getting reform right.

Even the select committee deadline of today is patently ridiculous – some of the questions being asked as simply unanswerable because there simply has not been sufficient time for any trials evidence to be generated, let alone collated.

Some of the issues with the bill include the problem that only education is at present enforceable, so health and social care have no statutory duty of their own to fulfill the requirements set out in an EHCP. Which means it won’t happen. Also, the issue of compulsory mediation before an appeal can be launched is hugely problematic – it will delay the process unacceptably. And if a young person has finished education but still has health and social care needs, would they still have a plan up to the age of 25 in the same way as they probably would if they had educational but not health or social care requirements?

It is, of course, a draft bill and one can only hope that all the submissions made to the select committee are carefully considered and taken on board and the required amendments made. When the results of the pathfinder begin to filter through, further detail can be added to the draft bill. I would hope that whoever is in charge of setting the bill’s deadline would have the courage to say, “Okay, we do need more time. We were aiming for early 2014, but let’s take another six months”. Does that type of courage exist in the DfE? You tell me.

Here is a list of the responses I have come across so far, with links. If you have one you’d like to share, please leave a link in the comments.

As I find more, I will add them here. Read the draft legislation here

The SEN draft bill: Have your say – but be quick!

The draft SEN bill is now out and will undergo pre-legislative scrutiny by the Education Select Committee. The committee last week issued a call for evidence with their cut off being noon on 11 October, but considering the questions being asked, it might be difficult for full answers to be given, considering the trials are only just about to get underway. Again, things seem, to me and many others, to be being done with undue speed.

The Committee says it may be unable to accept late submissions due to “tight deadlines”. But why are deadlines tight? Who has imposed them? Can’t this time-constrained person just say, “Yeah okay, made a mistake, have another month?” Go on, I bet you could if you really tried.

SEN lawyers are poring over the draft and are already making their voices heard about potential issues they that they believe will not benefit children. They have their chance to submit feedback in the call for evidence, as does everyone who has an interest – parents included.

Several people from local authorities and charities have said to me that the draft bill leaves them underwhelmed and doesn’t go far enough, but I am sure the DfE would say that the key word is ‘draft’ and the final bill and its regulations will be informed by the outcomes from the trials. My view, that things are moving at too fast a clip, legislation wise, for that to truly happen, has not changed. Perhaps ministers or officials should sit in on some of the pathfinder meetings so they can truly see where things are up to. I’m sure they would be welcomed. In fact, they can sit next to me; I’ll save them a seat between me and Ang, my Family Voice co-chair.

Some councils seem to be ahead of others, and the danger is that the DfE will pay more attention to them, when in fact, they may have rushed into trials without the proper ground-work having been done thoroughly enough. The whole process rather reminds me of the tortoise and the hare. I, for one, would rather have a rather more sedate and considered pace. Well, when I say “I, for one” actually, everyone else I speak to involved in the trials thinks the same as I do. That’s EVERYONE. I’m really not sure why the government, who are aware of this disquiet, seem to think we’re all just moaning minnies. I’m not talking about people who don’t want the change to happen – these are people who have committed much time, energy and taxpayer money to this on all sides and truly want an end to the adversarial way that is still, as we speak, continuing.

In fact, tomorrow, I am accompanying a parent to a meeting with an Area SEN Manager regarding funding their chosen placement – and this is for a school that, albeit, independent, is well-recognised as a centre of SEN excellence, cheaper than most LA special schools and where the LA already funds many similar children. This child is only there because he wasn’t given the help he clearly needed when the family applied, twice, in previous years and were refused assessment. I’m still hoping they’ll see sense before we have to traipse over to the SEN office. In the draft bill, equal weight is being given for parents to ask for placements at non-maintained special schools as to any other placement so, hey, here’s a crazy suggestion, why not show some forward thinking and start now?

Part of this problem, I think, stems from the fact that the pathfinder information and changes in culture have not trickled down to the people doing the day-to-day work in the LA SEN departments. In our authority, this is about to be addressed and not a moment too soon.

If you would like to give your feedback to the Education Select Committee, The questions being asked are below. Don’t be put off if you don’t think you can answer every question. Just give the feedback that you are able to. I think very few people will be able to answer every question. If you are a parent or carer of SEN/disabled children, your views are just as important as anyone else’s; more so, in my opinion. If you have found the bill too impenetrable to comprehend, try reading the letter written by the former minister, Sarah Teather, to the select committee committee as this may help you understand the bill’s clauses. There is also a guide for submissions to select committees here

General

1. Does the draft Bill meet the Government’s policy objective to improve provision for disabled children and children with special educational needs?

2. Will the provisions succeed in cutting red tape and delays in giving early specialist support for children and young people with SEN and/or disabilities?

3. What will be the cost?

4. What impact will the draft Bill have on current institutional structures?

5. What transitional arrangements should be put in place in moving from the existing system?

6. What can be learned from the current pilot schemes and how can these lessons be applied to the provisions of the draft Bill?

7. Is there anything missing from the draft Bill?

Specific

8. Whether it would be appropriate to move away from “special educational needs” and use the term “learning difficulties and/or disabilities” instead in the new system?

9. How the general duties on local authorities to identify and have responsibility for children and young people in their area who have or may have special educational needs (clauses 3 and 4) work with the specific duties in other provisions (clauses 5 to 11, 16 and 17 to 24)? Are they sufficiently coherent?

10. Should the scope of the integrated provision requirement be extended to all children and young people, including those with special educational needs?

11. Should other types of schools and institutions be included in the duty on schools to admit a child with an education, health and care plan naming the school as the school to be attended by the child?

12. Do the provisions for 19 to 25 year olds provide a suitable balance between rights, protections and flexibility?

13. Do the provisions achieve the aim of integrated planning and assessment across agencies?

14. How could the power given to the Secretary of State to make regulations with regard to the practicalities of the assessment and planning process be best utilised to achieve the aim of integrated support?

15. What impact will the new powers provided for in the clauses have on young people’s transition into adult services?

16. Should the provisions in this bill relating to portability of social care support reflect those for adults contained in the Care and Support Bill?

17. How could the provisions in the bill be used to reinforce protections for young people with special educational needs who are in custody or who are leaving custody?

Please note that submissions need not address all the questions but only those areas on which you have evidence to contribute. Where your comments relate to specific draft clauses, please identify the relevant clause clearly in your submission.

Please note: The submission should be sent by e-mail to educom@parliament.uk and marked “Pre-Legislative Scrutiny: SEN”. The Committee’s strong preference is for submissions in electronic form, although hard copy originals will be accepted. Hard copy submissions should be sent to Caroline McElwee, Committee Assistant, at: Education Committee, House of Commons, 7 Millbank, London SW1P 3JA

Each submission should: be no more than 3,000 words in length; have numbered paragraphs; and (if in electronic form) be in Word format or a rich text format with as little use of colour or logos as possible.

For Data Protection purposes, it would be helpful if individuals submitting written evidence send their contact details separately in a covering letter. You should be aware that there may be circumstances in which the House of Commons will be required to communicate information to third parties on request, in order to comply with its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Is your MP on the select committee?

Committee Membership is as follows:

  • Mr Graham Stuart (Chair), Conservative, Beverley and Holderness
  • Neil Carmichael, Conservative, Stroud
  • Alex Cunningham, Labour, Stockton North
  • Bill Esterson, Labour, Sefton Central
  • Pat Glass, Labour, North West Durham
  • Damian Hinds, Conservative, East Hampshire
  • Charlotte Leslie, Conservative, Bristol North West
  • Ian Mearns, Labour, Gateshead
  • Lisa Nandy, Labour, Wigan
  • David Ward, Liberal Democrat, Bradford East
  • Craig Whittaker, Conservative, Calder Valley

The draft SEN reform bill – some reactions

One to watch. And we are, oh yes we are.

So fare thee well, Miss Teather, just as the draft bill is published, you get the boot from your job. Hardly seems fair, really, when you’ve done so much of the legwork and now Mr Laws gets to step in to steer the ship home. This is Mr Laws, a man with a vast amount of experience with special needs children (actually, I have no idea – I’m just guessing they wouldn’t put another person who hasn’t had any actual children, let alone any with special needs, in charge of SEN reform. Sorry, what did you say? Oh. Well. They did. *shakes head ruefully*) I’ve seen him described as ‘formidable’. What, compared to parents of SEN/D kids? Don’t fancy his chances much, do you? *UPDATE NOTE: Neither did the government, because roles have since been shuffled and Edward Timpson MP will be in charge of the SEN bill, see this post for more**

Now, I’m not saying in order to do a good job steering any kind of reform you have to have had personal experience of whatever it is you’re reforming, but when you’re talking about something as sensitive as vulnerable children with disabilities and their families, if you have no direct experience, you can only ever sympathise rather than empathise, which is quite, quite different. See, we don’t want your pity, we want you to feel our pain. Just a little bit, because, trust me – you won’t forget it.

Same goes, I am quite sure, for adults with disabiltites who’d quite like the government to stop picking on them and cutting off their only viable means of financial support or taking away their Motability allowances, without which they couldn’t even get to any job that would have them. Oi, you lot in the wheelchairs, why can’t you propel yourselves around the Paralympic stadium as fast as David Weir? You wouldn’t need Motability allowance then, would you?

As someone whose day job is for an international disability organisation, as well as having children with special needs, I really find the whole disability-bashing climate extremely offensive, disturbing and quite frightening particularly when it seems to have been started by our own government, unwittingly or not. I’m also not entirely sure the Paralympics has done a lot for the image of people with impairments who aren’t quite as nimble as Oscar Pistorius. It just seems to have made certain sections of the public think, well if they can do it – why can’t you? (Answer: because they’re elite athletes, you muppets.)

But anyway, now I’ve made that clear, onto the draft bill. I promised my thoughts, but, again because of said job, I must apologise for I have let you down. I am currently preparing a two-hour social media workshop to help patient groups with limb differences make their voices heard online,  and so normal SNJ service isn’t quite up to snuff. But, kind readers, I have managed to seek out the opinions of those who haven’t been quite as distracted and I present them for you in a mini round up, here.

The very excellent Jane McConnell of IPSEA said,

“Now is the time to consider the system of support these draft provision are looking to create and assess whether they will improve and enhance those that are already in place for children, young people and their families across education, social care and health. It is time to be clear and transparent about what can and cannot be expected to be provided by any system. This needs to be a system that works for all children and young people – not just those that have parents to “police” and enforce it. We look forward to working closely with the Government to make the most of this opportunity.”

NASEN’s Lorraine Peterson meanwhile said,

“We need to ensure that all the work that is currently taking place especially within the Pathfinders and the voluntary and community sector is not wasted and will support the final legislation as it passes through Parliament. We have a real opportunity to make sure that this legislation secures a better future for all children and young people.”

I quite agree with this – there is a lot of work being done by many people at the grass roots level, not to mention much money being spent on it. It is to be hoped that (and this will be a mammoth task in itself) when all the pathfinders present all their results, that only the best ideas that work for children will make it into the final bill.

The NAS said,

“The draft legislation sets out provisions for statements to be replaced by Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP), which will extend statutory protections for children with SEN up to the age of 25 for those in further education.We believe that this will help improve transition for young people with autism. However, we are also working on the draft social care legislation to help improve transition into non-educational support.”

They highlighted various points from the bill some of which are below:

  • Legal definition of special educational needs remains the same [My note: Not sure how this could be changed, anyway]
  • Local authorities and clinical commissioning groups must make arrangements for jointly commissioning services for children with SEN in their area [My note: Well, from what I’ve seen so far within the pathfinders – good luck with this, there is a LONG LONG way to go]
  • Local authorities must produce their ‘local offer’ of available education, health and care services
  • Education, Health and Care Plans (0 – 25) replace statements of SEN [My note: It is quite likely however that there will need to be several versions of an EHCP format, depending on the child/young person’s age
  • All of the provisions of the Bill will apply to all schools including Academies and Free Schools [My note: And quite right too]
  • Local authorities must prepare personal budget in relation to an EHC plan where a request has been made by the parent or young person [My note: But no parents will be compelled to have one for their child]
  • Compulsory requirement for a parent or young person to participate in mediation before they can appeal to the Tribunal [My note: This can only benefit a parent who will then get a right to point out parts of their child’s application that may have been conveniently overlooked or just plain ignored – however, many parents, if not all would most likely want or need a representative and/or their key worker to help them prepare and attend with them.
  • There will be a revised Code of Practice [My note: Well, duh, not just a revised CoP but a completely rewritten one, from start to finish. And who’s going to do that? And when? Before the bill goes through parliament? At the same time? After?]

And this sparks another thought: Not only will there need to be a new Code of Practice, but every local authority will have to rewrite its graduated response documents and all its other SEN literature. There will, naturally, be a cost associated with this, and it will also take time – they can’t write it before they know what the new laws are. Then there is the cost of retraining all those LA staff who think parents are money-grubbing, sharp-elbowed harpies who are trying to bleed them dry.

I’m hoping to bring some parents’ views of the draft soon. if you’d like yours included, please do send them to me.

In my few months working with the LAs and colleagues on the pathfinders so far, I have to say I have met some incredibly dedicated, knowledgeable and caring people. A few are just plain wonderful. It’s going to take time for the rest to be whipped into shape and, as I said in my last post, they’re not exactly making an early start on changing attitudes at the lower levels.

But you know what? I’m optimistic. You have to be, in such a root and branch overhaul like this. While you cannot ignore the many areas of concern, without putting forward a positive attitude and a will to work for change, it cannot succeed. Let’s just hope that those people working so hard for it don’t drop from the pressure of tight timescales and overwork before then.

And Mr Laws? I’ll extend the same invitation to you as I did to Miss Teather – we’re having a pathfinder event in November, a joint parent and LA organised one in Surrey. Do come. You have, I am sure, a lot to catch up on and this will be a great place to do it.

Draft SEN legislation published and a response to my open letter to Sarah Teather

Well today is the day – the draft legislation has, rather unexpectedly, been published for the reform of provision for children and young people with Special Educational Needs. It had been said to have been put off until October, but that hasn’t appeared to have happened.

Towards the end of last week, I was delighted to receive a response to my Open Letter to Sarah Teather, from top DfE official, Stephen Kingdom. I had intended to publish it earlier but on Friday I had an EHCP meeting and then my day job, as PR for DysNet Limb Difference Network, had to take precedence with the Grunenthal “apology” to the world’s Thalidomide survivors, for which we’ve received much coverage. It’s had me working over the weekend since Friday evening.

Anyway, first the response to the open letter, then onto the draft legislation:

Thank you for your open letter of 27 June to Sarah Teather MP, Minister of State for Children and Families, regarding the pace of reform to special educational needs and disability policy.  I have been asked to reply and I am sorry for the delay in doing so.

It was very good to meet you at the Surrey pathfinder event in July, and to hear your personal perspective on the pathfinder programme and the Government’s proposals for reform of the SEN system.  Since we met, I have become an avid reader of Special Needs Jungle.  I hope you also found the opportunity to correspond directly with Sarah Teather through the Mumsnet chat helpful.  We hope she will have the opportunity to do a follow up webchat shortly, as well as continuing to talk to parents and young people through other channels.

I know you are concerned about the pace of reform and whether the Government is allowing sufficient time to learn from the pathfinders. We do understand those concerns – which I know others share – and that is why we are ensuring we can continue to feed in learning from the pathfinders throughout the legislative process.  And, of course, the legislation is only one part of the reform story – as you know well it is getting cultural change that is key.

The SEN clauses in the Children and Families Bill, which we intend to publish in September, will be draft – that is, they are intended for discussion.  As the Minister said on MumsNet, we hope that this discussion will be a real opportunity for wide range of stakeholders, including parents and charities, to tell the Government what they think.  The final Bill won’t be published until spring 2013, and it will be debated at length in Parliament before it gets Royal Assent and becomes an Act.

The Minister also said on MumsNet that some of the legislation will need to be done at a later stage.  In Parliamentary terms, this is referred to as “secondary legislation” and is usually in the form of a statutory instrument, such as a regulation.  We will, of course, be able to build in further learning from the pathfinders into this secondary legislation.  In addition, we will in due course be updating the SEN Code of Practice, which provides practical advice to local authorities, maintained schools, early education settings and others on carrying out their statutory duties.  I open this will present another opportunity to build in learning from the pathfinders.

Ministers do genuinely want the SEN clauses to be informed by views, knowledge and experience of people like yourself.  That is critical for us to get the detail right.  I hope, however, that you can appreciate Ministers also want to maintain pace, to ensure that the reforms set out in the SEND Green Paper really do bring change for children and their families who have special educational needs or disabilities.  During the development of the Green Paper in 2010 and since, my team has heard from lots of parents about the frustrations they experience with the current system (and, of course, you are all too aware of these as well).

I hope this response is helpful, and thank you once again for taking the time to write.

It’s very nice to see that SNJ is read in high places and so if you feel there is any issue surrounding SEN that I haven’t covered that should be highlighted, do let me know.

I was very interested to see cultural change mentioned – having had two recent experiences of parents in my area who have received shoddy treatment at the hands of SEN panels. It is quite disturbing to see that even while we are working to improve things with the reforms, staff at lower levels in the LA feel it is acceptable to keep on as if it was the bad old days.

The draft legislation, published earlier today, will require some digestion. You can download it for yourself here. It’s going to take some reading, at 65 pages, so I’m not going to comment too much today other than to highlight the following regarding assessment:

The local authority must secure an EHC needs assessment for the child or young person if, after having regard to any views expressed and evidence submitted, the authority is of the opinion that.

(a) the child or young person has or may have special educational needs, and

(b) it may be necessary for special educational provision to be made for the child or young person in accordance with an EHC plan.

Now, I can already see a problem – first of all, no one would ask for an assessment if the child clearly didn’t have SEN, or if earlier attempts to help the child had not already taken place so it’s a bit of a moot point. But the rub is in b). As it stands, so far, the proposals are that when an agency (parent, school, nursery, health visitor etc) refers a child for an assessment, a multi-agency meeting is supposed to take place where it is decided if anything needs to be done at that stage, or if the child’s needs can be met from the local offer (what’s available locally) or if an EHCP assessment is needed.

So who is going to make this crucial decision about whether to assess? Unless there is clear and complete cultural revolution within LEA mid and lower level staff, nothing will change and in order for parents to have confidence in the new system, this decision-making process will need to be totally transparent. At the moment, you get a yes or a no and maybe one line about why (if you’re lucky), but a parent has no idea what went on in the panel discussion. Having the proposed key worker involved to represent the child at that meeting would go some way to making sure that all documents are present and that the best decision for the child and not just the LA, is being made.

One further, and quite startling point, for now – the draft bill states that when an EHCP is to be drawn up the parents can ask for a place in an independent special school (non maintained special school). This is a huge step forward, if I’m reading it right. There is, of course, a get-out clause – the old “efficient use of resources” line that’s currently in the current system and so this really needs a closer look, because how can you give parents a right to name an independent special school if the LA then comes back and says, well we don’t want to pay for that because we don’t think it’s an efficient use of resources?

There is much to be digested this evening but at first scan, there’s also much room for improvement. Expect more on this in the next few days.

Sarah Teather is doing a live webchat over on MumsNet tomorrow at 1pm.

Special Educational Needs reform update

Hope your summer is going okay! We’re just back from Italy where we were devoured by relentless mosquitos day and night.

Just thought you might like to read this pdf of the June 20th Select Committee on SEN at which Sarah Teather spoke about the SEN reforms. I wrote about it here but now the transcript has been published, so I’m putting it here for you to read in full, including the views of five experts including Jane McConnell of IPSEA.

This September, pathfinder trials will be getting underway, although in many areas, the thorny subject of who the key worker is still under discussion. If you’ve been approached to be a pathfinder family, I’d love to hear from you. Alternatively, if, like me, you’re a parent involved in the pathfinder development, let me know your views on the process.

There will be another update from the DfE at the end of October but if you’re interested with the process, reading this document will be informative.

Active listening: a core skill for SEN reform

Yesterday, MumsNet hosted a live web chat with Sarah Teather, Minister of State for Children and Families.

I recently posted an open letter to Miss Teather, to which I’m still awaiting a response. Last week I spoke at a Surrey pathfinder event on behalf of Family Voice Surrey and in front of DfE senior official, Stephen Kingdom. I made sure to mention our concerns about the timetable for reform that everyone, outside the government, is very worried about. I spoke to Mr Kingdom, a very personable chap, afterwards, to ask him to pass on these concerns to Miss Teather. A day later, he emailed me to tell me about the MumsNet webchat and I was delighted to publicise it on my various social nets (and thanks to everyone who retweeted!) so that as many people as possible could get their questions in. Including, of course, me!

Here is my question:

Hi. My name is Tania Tirraoro and I am co-chair of Family Voice Surrey parent-carer forum. On behalf of FVS, I sit on both the Surrey Local Change Board and the EHCP workstream, part of the SE pathfinder. I have two statemented teenage sons with ASD and I am also the founder of the website, Special Needs Jungle.
I can see how hard parents and professionals alike are working on this reform and how much many LA staff want to do things differently. There are many challenges and details to be worked out and worked through. Our EHCP trial isn’t even set to start until September, and we are far from alone.
I would like to ask: What is your objection to listening to (as opposed to hearing) all those expert voices who are telling you that any draft bill should be delayed until the New Year?A delay of a few months won’t stop this process (described by someone in your department as an ‘unstoppable train’, rather worryingly), but it will give those involved time to work through the pilots, making adjustments as they go without feeling the unnecessary pressure of looming legislation.
The genie is out of the bottle – reform will happen, but you’ll be remembered much more favourably if you give them time to do their work without the extra pressure that fitting into an artificial timetable will bring and you will end up with a stronger, more sustainable system that will really work for children with SEN & disabilities and their families.
Stephen Kingdom, your DfE colleague, told me last week the process will evolve and it won’t be a final bill – if that’s so, why bother publishing it until you actually have solid results to use?
Thank you for your time.

Despite being in bed recovering from surgery, on Monday I logged on via my iPad to read all the many questions posted – and there were lots of questions from concerned parents about various aspects of SEN provision.

It has been clear to me for some time that anyone outside the actual pathfinders doesn’t really know what stage they’re at, or what they’re even about. If you’d like to know more, I would thoroughly recommend this article in SEN Magazine from Jane McConnell, CEO of IPSEA who has a good grasp of the issues and spoke at the recent Education Select Committee on SEN.

Even though it wasn’t the first to be posted, my question was the first Miss Teather chose to answer, not that there is anything to read into that. See below.

SarahTeatherMP Mon 16-Jul-12 10:37:55

Tania Tirraoro asked a question which was picked up by a few of you:
I would like to ask: What is your objection to listening to (as opposed to hearing) all those expert voices who are telling you that any draft bill should be delayed until the New Year?

The most important thing I should stress is that what we will be publishing in September is just a draft bill – it is for discussion, not for debate in Parliament. We won’t be publishing the real bill until the Spring next year. The draft bill is an opportunity for parents and charities who are expert in this area to look at our ideas and tell us what they think. The education select committee in Parliament will also run a kind of inquiry on the draft proposals. It is one of the many stages we are using to test out people’s views and make sure we have the detail right.
It is also important to remember that this is the half way point in the reform process. We began in September 2010, asking people’s views on about what should change, then we published a green paper in the spring last year, more detailed proposals a few months ago, the draft bill in September and the real bill next year. We will also have lots of time in Parliament to debate the bill. It isn’t being rushed through. It will run over two Parliamentary sessions. And some of the legislation will need to be done in what is called secondary legislation at a later stage.
Throughout this process the pathfinders will be testing things out and we wil be getting formal reports. The pathfinders of course are not just testing out the proposals for the legislation. much more importantly, they are about changing culture. You can’t legislate to make people listen – you need to get better at it.

Sarah

I didn’t post a follow up, she only had an hour and there were a lot of questions to get through. The answer was interesting and informative but it still doesn’t answer the question posed further down in my posting – why publish a draft bill if the process is nowhere near ready for it and there is still feedback to be sought from parents and charities? This would seem to be a waste of time and money.

It is this draft bill that is putting unneccesary pressure on the professionals involved in the pathfinders who are trying to do their best – it is unfair and unrealistic. At this stage, in Surrey, we are only about to start talking about who a key worker should be and what qualities they need. But key workers need to be appointed before a trial can begin. Likewise a plan writer. This work WILL be done, but why place what amounts to a false deadline to loom over their heads?

Speaking as the parent of children with special needs (and I’m pretty certain that my views are echoed by most other parents and professionals), give them time to get it right! Why not say, okay, we will have a draft bill, but to instil confidence in the government’s intentions to get it right, we will listen to these concerns and make a much more informed draft bill in January. Would that be so difficult? Really? We wouldn’t think badly of you, we would all breathe a sigh of relief that the job could be done without a guillotine hanging over the heads of those doing the work.

The perception that without this October draft bill nothing will happen is utterly wrong. All it’s doing is causing anxiety and the impression that the government is steaming ahead without regard for the reality of the situation.

One very interesting point Miss Teather mentioned – and it’s something that is at the very heart of the reform – is culture change. This also is going to take money and time. People may lose their jobs over it if they can’t adjust to a new way of thinking. The idea of children and families as ‘client groups’ as I heard one person call them, must come to an end. Children are not clients, they are the vulnerable young people that this process is all about. You can’t change culture by a wave of the wand – extensive training needs to happen.

On top of this is the massive shake-up  in school funding that is happening all at the same time and it is causing much anxiety, frustration and confusion. Mr Gove seems to forget that with all his ‘fantastic’ ideas, he is creating uncertainty in already uncertain times and this cannot be good for schools, teachers or ultimately, children.

So, thank you Miss Teather, for taking part in the web chat yesterday. I’m not really sure if anything you said made anyone actually feel better, but it was a nice gesture. I know you’re busy, but you need to do more getting out and about like this. You see, parents of children with special needs are a cynical bunch and for good reason. Actions speak louder than words to us.

Can you really understand what we’ve been through and are still going through? I don’t really think so, but delaying any draft bill to the new year would be a good indication that you are listening to those of us who are in a position to speak on behalf of our fellow parents who are too stressed and overwhelmed with their situation to have time to speak up for themselves.

 

Dear Miss Teather, an open letter about the pace of SEN reform

Dear Miss Sarah Teather

I know you mean well. I know you really want to do something to help improve the lot of kids with special needs. And you might think you understand the challenges faced by parents who have children with SEN and disabilities. But really, you don’t. You can’t, because, as far as I’m aware, you don’t have any children, let alone any children like ours. So while you might be able to intellectualise it, you really can’t possibly know what it’s like, unless you’ve lived it, day in, day out.

And something else you don’t seem to know about, is what is actually going on at ground level within the pathfinders for SEN reform. You might know what you’ve been told, but unless you’ve actually sat in on a few of the workstreams for the different pilots, or the Local Change Board, you really don’t know. And even if you have, it’s not likely anyone’s going to say, actually Miss Teather, you’re living in a parallell universe to the one that everyone, who’re desperately trying to put the pieces of this reform together, are in.

pencils

You’re planning, so you say, to inform the draft bill on the results of the pathfinder trails. Err, what trials? There will be trials – there are enough dedicated professionals and parents working to get them underway – but there won’t be any substantive results by the autumn. So what then? Are you going to press on regardless? Because if you do, then you’ve just wasted a shedload of money shelling out for the pathfinder authorities.

I watched the select committee on SEN last week online. All five experts said there should be a delay in bringing legislation. And you said, okay, let’s put it back a month or so until the autumn. I don’t think you meant autumn 2013, when we most certainly would have enough evidence to inform a substantial draft bill.

I know that your officials have been told that the pace of legislation is far ahead of the pace of the pilots, but it seems that no one is actually listening. Why not? What makes you think that you and your officials and the Rt Hon Mr Gove know better than those people who have been seconded to carry out the trials?

For a start – and I’ve mentioned this on my blog before (you do read my blog, don’t you – it’s award winning!) you can only start an effective EHCP pilot if

a)  you have some families who’ve actually signed up to it

b)  you have a Key Worker and a Plan Writer in place to help the parents through the process and to write the actual plan and

c)  you’ve actually finalised what a plan should look like. Unlike you, I’m on an EHCP workstream and we are closer to getting c) than we were, but it is so important to get it right that it needs a number of drafts.

As I said, it’s just my opinion, but at least I’ve actually been through statementing with my sons. Twice. And written a book about it. So actually, maybe my opinion is more informed than yours. Just maybe.

You can achieve all the reform you need without chucking the baby out with the bathwater because I’m not even sure there was a whole lot wrong with the statementing system in the first place. It just needed people to put the child at the heart of it and not egos, budgets or brinkmanship. It needed people to do what they were supposed to do, in a timely fashion. It needed more support for, often vulnerable, parents right through the process. It needed SENCos to be able to put the needs of the child first without worrying about their jobs. And it needed those SENCos to actually know what’s in the SEN Code of Practice. Some are great, but that’s no help if you’re at a school where the special needs help is poor.

As a result of the way the current system has been executed, literally thousands of parents have been left in debt, emotionally battered, angry and sometimes even divorced. A whole industry of well-paid SEN lawyers has grown up out of bad practice of local authority SEN officials who have forgotten who they’re there to help in the first place. And don’t think you’re going to put the lawyers out of business with the new reforms – at least not at the pace you want them done.

It’s not just a case of policies. It’s, first and foremost, a question of hearts and minds, of a will and an ability to do things differently. Training, and lots of it, will be needed. Inadequate training of staff in policies and cultural change will lead to poor results for the child, a bad experience for parents and an adversarial system. Kind of like the one we’ve got already.

And don’t think that every single professional is on board with your and Mr Gove’s reforming zeal. They’re not and if you’re going to make things work as they need to, you have to convince them that it’s a good idea or you’ll have failed before you’ve even started.

Are you listening yet? We, in Surrey, have some pathfinder events going on this week and on the 12th July. If you don’t believe what I’ve said here, why not throw on a disguise and pop on down so you can see what they’re saying about the pace of reform behind your back?

Look forward to seeing you (or maybe not, if your disguise is good)

Tania

Don’t rush SEN reform – get it right, not fast

I’ve just watched the Education Select Committee on SEN – the Next Steps and many of the concerns raised mirror the points I raised in my presentation at the Towards a Positive Future Conference.

Sarah Teather, in her part of the committee, said there will be a ‘slight delay’ in bringing the draft bill until the autumn. This will be followed by a ‘carry-over’ bill in Spring 2013.

But most of the trials are not planned to get started in earnest UNTIL the autumn. So I think the government is still jumping the gun. And I’m not the only one. The experts (yes, Ms Teather, experts) all share my view that legislation should be delayed. You can find the recording of the today Select Committee here. Having listened to Ms Teather, she seems to think the pathfinder trials are a lot further along than they are –  certainly in the SE7 group, to which Surrey belongs.

I’m including a portion of my talk below where I cover both where we’re up to in Surrey with the EHCP and why I think the apparent rush to legislation is foolhardy.

**

The SEN Green paper of course, is still being developed. In fact we are only now edging closer to what an EHCP might look like. Who will be writing a child’s EHCP or supporting the parents through it – a so-called key worker –  has still to be decided.

This process is one that is supposed to be informed not just by the professionals and the politicians, but also by the voice of the parents. Parents are part of every pathfinder and every workstream from EHCP to complex needs to early intervention, looked after children and so on..

This is where the parent-carer forums come in. Our Surrey Forum,  Family Voice Surrey, is still quite new. We work with other parents on the committee to represent a strong voice for parents of SEN and disabled children. For the Surrey pathfinder, we are there, putting the parents’ voice forward, as other parent-carers forums do in the other pathfinder areas. We also sit on the high-level Local Change Board, giving us a voice at the very heart of the local authority’s decision-making process for SEN.

Surrey is part of what is called the South East 7,  SE7 group of pathfinder authorities that includes Kent, Medway, East Sussex, West Sussex, Brighton & Hove &  Hampshire

The pathfinders will all test some core elements of reform, including:

  • The single education, health and care plan from birth to 25 years old, focusing on whether outcomes for disabled children and their parents have been improved
  • personal budgets for parents so they can choose which services best suit the needs of their children  although no one will be forced to take control of their own budgets if they feel they can’t or don’t want to.
  • improved commissioning, particularly through links to health reforms – though it has to be said health are, in many areas, reluctant party-goers.
  • and how voluntary and community sector organisations will need to be involved in making the new system work
  • it will also look at the cost of the reform.

Crucially, the new process is also supposed to go from birth up to 25 years old. This is a huge change from the current system where parents of disabled 19 year olds face considerable difficulty in accessing appropriate support or education for them. It’s also anticipated, as I mentioned, that a key worker will support the parents through the process.

Another aspect being worked through is the ‘local offer’ which each LEA will need to draw up to set out to parents whose children do NOT have an EHCP what provision is available for them within the county to support their children’s needs.

It’s aimed at giving parents more information about the services and expertise available locally, for health, education and social care, and increasing their choice. At the moment, we don’t actually know in Surrey what will be in the local offer, it’s still at the development stages.

The principles are for it to be holistic, accessible and easy to understand for parents as well as transparent, sustained and sustainable  –  ie, continually updated – as well as realistic.

As a parent involved in the pathfinder, it can be difficult. After all, you are not experts in every single field. You are, by definition,  informed mainly by the experiences of your family, and other families that you know. This can be a strength and a weakness:  the parent needs to be able to extract from their experience, what is useful to the process and not get bogged down by past injustices in dealings with the LA or present worries about their own child.

You’re there, after all, to represent all parents, carers and most importantly, the often unheard voice of our children. And let’s not forget, some children aren’t lucky enough to have parents and are ‘Looked After’ by the local authority – someone needs to speak for them, too.

The Regional Framework for Parent-Carer Participation says that Parents and Carers are central to, and key partners in, the SE7 Pathfinder activity, which is a learning process for all parties. Sometimes this is hard to believe. Comments I have heard include  “Some parents just want to get a statement to get their child into a good school.” This from the (now former) head of SEN. Or, from another professional, “Some children have too much provision in their statement.” Not to mention that even now, parents still say that their LA case worker seems to feel the money for provision is coming out of their own pocket.

I think one of the most important things that needs to happen and right now, is a cultural change in attitudes to one where parents and LEA are not seen as being on opposite sides. This, I think, may be the most difficult part of the whole process but it is crucial.  There are too many examples to count where parents have been forced to the brink of despair, have just given up or had to remortgage their homes in order to secure the right educational solution for their child.

If the new process doesn’t come with a shift in the entrenched local authority belief that parents are trying to get ‘more than they’re entitled to’ or to ‘game the system’, then any number of new laws will not bring about real change. Let’s not forget  parents don’t go into this process for a laugh. It’s gruelling, it’s exhausting and it’s distressing. Often parents turned down at the first application just give up  and they are often the parents who are most in need of support but who have no knowledge of how to get it, because they find all the information leaflets sent out just too confusing.

So, you’re probably wondering how this new system will work  and key to this is the new Educational Health and Care plan. What will an EHCP look like? For a start, lots of outside commentators seem to be mistaking a single plan for a single assessment. The different assessments will depend on the needs of the child but the idea is to have a single plan that encompasses all the child’s needs from educational, health and social care.

Because it’s such a broad ask, actually designing what the finished Statutory plan should look like is taking some time. In Surrey we have just prepared a second draft of our own, which is shaping into a workable document through lots of feedback from professionals and, I’m delighted to say, our parental contribution has informed its development a great deal.

The plan involves multiple entry and exit points and the plan will be updated as the child develops. This is fine in theory, but many parents will be worried that this contrant review process will end up with their child losing provision and if it’s updated every year regardless, it’s going to cost a lot of money.

The idea is that once an initial problem with a child is raised – at whatever age it is found- then a Multi-Agency meeting is planned with all the relevant services. The main idea is that the parent should only have to tell the child’s story once. I’m not sure, in practice, how practical this will be.

The parent will be able to choose a key worker to support them through the process. After the meeting, it will then be decided whether any action needs to be taken at this point, or if an assessment is required. It’s intended that at any decision point, an appeal can be heard although they do intend to include more of a mediation process. Again, how this will work has not been finalised.

You can see that even at the early stages of drafting, there is no intention just to have one assessment  it just wouldn’t be possible if a child has multiple and complex needs.  After this, it will be decided whether the child’s needs can be met within the local offer or whether an EHCP should be drawn up.  At the forefront of the EHCP is a focus on ‘outcomes’ which will, of course change as the child progresses through this endless cycles of reviews during their education and on until they are 25, if necessary. And at the heart of the process is the child.

On the face of it  a good, holistic idea, but the devil, as we are all finding out, is in the detail. For example, there is the question of who will be writing the final plan. At present, the statement is written by a statement writer whose usual background is a case worker with a few years experience. They like to, so I’m told, sit in isolation in a darkened room writing up a document that will affect the rest of a child’s education. This explains perhaps why most of them are pretty inadequate.

As the idea is to involve the parent and/or keyworker at all stages, this will certainly have to change. The person writing the plan will, in collaboration with the parents & key worker, have to sift through the results of the assessments to find the key needs that need to be provided for. So to me, as a parent, the major people in this whole process, aside from the child, will be the Key worker and the plan writer.

To me, and this is only my opinion, the key worker should be an independent advocate for the child: that is, independent of the LA or the parent, but who also has regard to the parents’ support needs. If this is the case, then negotiation can be made at the plan writing stage to come to an agreed plan so that the need for appeal is minimised- because nothing is finalised until all parties have agreed and all parties are fully involved.

At the moment, a statement writer is supposed to distil the evidence into a statement to fit in with what might be available from the LA. And so when a parent wants an independent special school, further negotiations or an appeal has to take place. And that appeal is usually for parts 2, 3 and 4.

On top of this, I think parents should be encouraged to think about placement at a much earlier stage. Some already do, but other, perhaps less socially mobile parents are left with a statement that the local school can’t possibly hope to meet.

This is where the key worker is a bonus  as a person who, presumably, does this for a living, they will be familiar with the range of provision both in and out of county and will be able to present a shortlist of schools for the parents that is suitable for the child  who, after all is who this whole process is about.

So the plan writer needs some pretty sterling qualities: – someone with a keen analytical mind; compassion; knowledge of education; health and care services, who is also able to work collaboratively. Wow! What a person!

And the Key Worker: This needs to be a person of infinite patience who also has knowledge of education, health and care providers, compassion, independence and an ability to withstand the pressure of the LA and its focus on budgets and the pressure of the parents who may or may not be able to clearly see what is suitable for their child. They also need an awareness of what is available to support parents (they may need a magnifying glass for that!)

This is a vital issue:  parental stress through the needs of a disabled child, can lead to family breakdown, which is counter-productive to the future of the child.  It can also lead to illness of the parent who is then unable to care for the child.

So, I strongly believe that it is impossible to be able to carry out satisfactory pathfinder trials until people of this calibre are identified and recruited, because these are people vital to the process. This does not fit with the government’s stated timetable and it would be a shame to have to cave in to pressure from the government when there is a huge opportunity to reform the SEN system for future generations.

Unfortunately, the coalition government sees the reform process as an unstoppable train that they are pushing through with, on their on timetable, with no regard for the realities of what is happening on the ground.

It’s little short of crazy and they have been told their timetable is unrealistic but, by all accounts, they are NOT listening and so everyone is under extreme pressure to push through a process at break-neck speed that will be in danger of being just as ‘not fit for purpose’ as the one it aims to replace. I think that the government should not rush to legislation. As I have outlined, the trials are yet to begin in earnest  and at this stage in the year with the summer holidays around the corner, look set to be delayed even further.

And yet the government says it aims to use the results of the pathfinders to inform its draft bill this Summer. I’m not sure where they’re planning to get these results from and, with the exception of West Sussex, few families have been registered for the pilots. Surrey for example have ‘identified’ a number of parents for various aspects of the trials, but none have been registered yet for the EHCP, which is the crux of the whole reform. And we are far from alone.

If the government are serious about making a change that will truly benefit children with SEN and disabilities, surely it is better to get it right, than to get it done quickly.

A government spokesman is reported in The Guardian to have said they do not expect to get Royal Assent before 2014 so why the rush this summer? A lot of money is being spent on the pathfinders  even down to catering for all day sessions, hiring meeting rooms, paying attendance and travel expenses.

It is only right that spending, what is taxpayer money, should be rewarded with a system that is sound, reliable, works for families and provides appropriate, lasting educational and social solutions to children with special needs and disabilities.

SEN child? Join me and NAS president, Jane Asher, on Sat 16 June

So, it’s just a couple of days before the Towards a Positive Future Special Educational Needs conference in Newbury – if you can make it at all, it’ll be well worth the trip.

My presentation is all written and it includes some up to date information on the pathfinder trials for the SEN Green Paper for Surrey. What I’ve found is that those commentators outside the pathfinder really know little about what is actually happening within the workstreams.

Tomorrow, I’m off to a couple of meetings for the Surrey pathfinder, including the latest for the Education, Health & Care plan. We’ll be reviewing a draft plan drawn up by the pathfinder lead, Susie Campbell who has collated lots of feedback from a previous meeting – quite an undertaking and I’m looking forward to seeing what she’s come up with. Our feedback from Family Voice Surrey parent-carer forum was quite comprehensive.

Saturday’s conference still has a few paces left and they can be boked online at http://www.wordswell.co.uk/tapf-conference-2012/booking.php

Among the keynote speakers are:

Clive Rawlings – Barrister – The Coalition Plan for Special Educational Needs: Cohesion or Corrosion?

Charlie Mead – Educational Psychologist – The Careless System

Martyn Sibley – Social Entrepreneur who has one aim ‘To Change the World for Disabled People’

Jane Asher – Actress and President of the National Autistic Society

Delegates can also choose from a range of seminars including OT- Equipping young people with SEN and parents for Life After School; Differentiation in the classroom for children with autism; SLT – the SCAEP multi-sensory social communication skills programme;  Getting Good Social Work Services; Implications of the Green Paper for Children with Dyslexia and Developing Communication Skills for Pupils with Down’s Syndrome.

I’m really looking forward to meeting Debs Aspland, the chair of Kent parent-carer forum, who’s delivering a presentation drawn from her experience as parent of a child with a diagnosis. We’ve built up a friendship via twitter and Facebook and narrowly missed meeting at the Labour SEN policy review meeting a few months ago. Social media is fab for making connections like this, especially as a parent of children with special needs, which can be socially isolating.

So, really hope to see you there if you can make it. And if you do, don’t be shy and make sure you come up and say hello!

SEN Green Paper response round up and other special needs stories

It’s been something of an eventful week for both Special Needs and Special Needs Jungle. Last week, I was called up by a reporter from the Daily Telegraph to ask my views on whether I thought one in five schoolchildren really had special needs. We had a good chat and the article appeared on Saturday. It was followed by a barrage of comments online on the DT, often displaying the most moronic and ignorant views– not aimed at me, but at vulnerable children.  As the paper didn’t really reflect the crux of what I had said, I wrote a blog post the same day that attracted much more thoughtful comments (thank goodness) from people who actually have opinions worth reading.

Then, the detailed response to the SEN Green Paper came. I was called up by Christine Alsford from Meridian TV, my ITV region and they came over and spoke to me about it, even filming Son2 in his bright blue BodySox.  (See post below with the footage).

On Wednesday, I went to an EHCP meeting for the Surrey pathfinder where, after the government announcement the previous day, there was understandably something of a sense of urgency and alarm at the accelerated deadline. The new lead, Susie Campbell, however, appears more than up to the task. Actually, I think she’s fab.

And so, understandably, this week’s stories are mostly about the Next Steps document and the response to it – all worth reading to see different perspectives.

And if you missed my guest post about Floortime for autism – there’s a free parent ticket and a cut price professional ticket for a June workshop on offer – check out the post below.

SEN – The Next Steps – My views & Meridian Tonight feature

So, there’s been much furore today about the headlines for proposals that  450,000 children be ‘struck off’ the SEN register. This is a bit of a stupid headline, to say the least. I was interviewed by Meridian Tonight (clip at end of post) about it for my views as a parent of SEN children.

The story was linked to this announcement from the DfE today that continues on from the SEN Green paper on Special Needs and Aspiration, that was trailed last week. It seems that any story about children with special needs is pounced upon by the haters and the critics. Oh, those bad teachers. Oh those terrible parents. Oh those benefit scroungers. I can guarantee you that none of those people who make moronic comments like that are either a teacher or have a child with special needs, which means that they should, quite frankly, shut up.

The key points in today’s “Next Steps” announcement were:

  • The new Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP)  will eventually replace the statement and will last from birth to 25 for those children who need it. The EHCP will be a “single assessment process, … ensuring that families have confidence that all of the different local agencies – across education, health and social care are working to together to meet their needs. This will stop parents having to have to undergo repeated assessments with different agencies.”
  • Personal budgets: all families with an approved education, health and care plan will have a legal right to request a personal budget, if they choose.
  • Joint commissioning: LAs and clinical commissioning groups would have to put arrangements in place to ensure that services for disabled children and young people, and those with SEN are planned and commissioned jointly.
  • School choice: parents whose children have an education, health and care plan would have the legal right to seek a place at any state-funded school of their choice – whether maintained, academy, Free School or special. LAs would have to name the parent’s preferred school so long it was suitable for the child, did not prejudice the education of other children or did not mean an inefficient use of funds.
  • Local offer: all LAs would publish a ‘local offer’ of  support, so parents would know exactly what is available instead of having to fight for basic information.
  • Mediation and the tribunal and children’s right to appeal to a tribunal: introducing mediation before Tribunal for disputes and trialling giving children the right to appeal if they are unhappy with their support.
What some sections of the press jumped on was that the statement from the DfE mentioned an OFSTED report from 2010 that claimed many children were wrongly identified with SEN. I touched on the reasons for this in my post on Saturday, so you can read it there. But to say that this happens often or even routinely is a huge exaggeration.
It is quite right that the government should seek to provide the most appropriate provision for children whether they have actual SEN or whether they need nurture groups because of family difficulties. If they can bring forward the funding and expertise to put this in place, then they should do it as soon as possible.
What they should NOT do as soon as possible (ie, this summer) is think that their policy can be informed by any results from pathfinder trials of the EHCP. In Surrey, this is still at a very early stage – ie, we, at Family Voice Surrey, are not even sure that any families are yet trialling it, so to have any firm conclusions drawn by this summer is optimistic in the extreme.
Tomorrow, Surrey has another day-long EHCP meeting that myself and my FVS colleague, Angela Kelly, will attend with great interest.
What must NOT be done is for these plans to be rushed through for political reasons – we are talking about the futures of some of society’s most vulnerable and if you’re going to shake up the system it should be done properly, in a considered manner.
Anyway, now for the light relief. Christine Alsford from Meridian (where I cut my TV reporter teeth) came over and filmed me and Son2. Son2 only agreed if he could be in his BodySox and the crew thought this was a genius idea.  What do you think?

SEN Green Paper: Ministerial “Detailed response” expected next week

So, next week government ministers will set out their detailed response and reform timetable as their next steps in the SEN Green Paper. They’ve been saying it’s ‘imminent’ since February, so we’ll see what they’ve come up with.

Ministers say they’ve committed to making all the necessary legal changes to put in place reforms proposed in the Support and Aspiration Green Paper and yesterday, in the Queen’s speech, they pledged that the planned Children and Families Bill would deliver better support for families. It would introduce a single, simpler assessment process for children with SEN or disabilities, backed up by new Education, Health and Care Plans – the same EHCP that Surrey, as a pathfinder council, is setting up now. As a member of parent-carer forum, Family Voice Surrey, I am one of two parent reps, along with FVS Chair, Angela Kelly, for this pathfinder stream. Our next EHCP meeting for this is next week, so it will be a very interesting day, I think!

The SEN key measures announced yesterday were:

  • replacing SEN statements and Learning Difficulty Assessments (for 16- to 25-year-olds) with a single, simpler 0-25 assessment process and Education, Health and Care Plan from 2014
  • providing statutory protections comparable to those currently associated with a statement of SEN to up to 25 in further education – instead of it being cut off at 16
  • requiring local authorities to publish a local offer showing the  support available to disabled children and young people and those with SEN, and their families
  • giving parents or young people with Education, Health and Care Plans the right to a personal budget for their support
  • introducing mediation for disputes and trialling giving children the right to appeal if they are unhappy with their support.

The legislation intends to draw on evidence from all the 20 local pathfinders set up in last September. Certainly, in Surrey, we have a long way to go before the LEA are in any sort of position to make evaluations on outcomes. This is despite the government saying that interim evaluation reports are due in summer and late autumn 2012, with a final report in 2013.

IPSEA, the charity that supports parents though the SEN process said, “It is essential that the Pathfinder pilots be given a rigorous evaluation before any legislation in this vital area goes on to the statute book. The pilots started only in late 2011, and have two years to run. It seems premature and potentially unsound to rely on the evidence from these Pathfinder pilots one way or the other before 2014.”

There are huge changes in the offing and no one is really sure, as yet, how it’s all going to work out. There certainly is an enormous amount of work being done by many committed people all over the country in the different aspects of the proposals.

I look forward to seeing the detailed response and finding out how much they’ve listened to what people at the SEN coalface really think.

If ‘child centred’ help is a no-brainer, why isn’t it happening?

One thing that’s become very familiar in the last few years, both personally and from reading your comments and emails, is how outragously hard it is to get the right medical and psychological support for ASD children and their families.

Our family has been waiting for a CAMHS appointment since the beginning of the year. I’ve called up the consultant’s secretary on numerous occasions and still nothing happens, despite being promised an appointment at the beginning of April. It’s frustrating, stressful and my son meanwhile, is not getting the help he needs.

Not that going to CAMHS is a particular help in many cases. When Son1 went, we were told that CBT wouldn’t work because he had Asperger’s and as he was now in the right school, goodbye to you!

And professional support for parents? Don’t get me started. My GP told me candidly that there wasn’t help for anyone and that’s just the way it is.

One lady who wrote to me recently said, “The two consultants in our CAMHS team told me that my son doesn’t tick enough boxes to fit easily into a diagnosis but they did acknowledge that he’s a complex boy with significant processing deficiencies (whatever that means). I stamped my foot a bit and said that they jolly well need to try to fit him into a box so that we can get some help and support for him and they agreed to carry out some diagnostic tests. Unfortunately, all did not go to plan as when we arrived at the department for the cognitive tests, the consultant had collapsed and was being taken away in an ambulance. The other consultant told us that his colleague had been made redundant and that we wouldn’t have another chance of an appointment with her. This was in January and then I never heard from them again.”

She went on to say that her GP wanted to refer her son elsewhere, but CAMHS refused to support the referral as they want to see the diagnosis through themselves and are expecting a locum to come in the near future. “It seems that at every step of the way we are faced with obstacles. I can’t believe what they are prepared to let these children go through before they get a diagnosis. I am determined to get things sorted for my son but feel so sorry for the other children out there who have parents who are less able to challenge the professionals. I hope that one day things will be different.”

Another mother told me that her 11 year old daughter, who suffers from chronic pain and ASD, was refused an assessment by the LEA. After a period of homeschooling, her daughter went back into school as although her anxiety and self-esteem had improved, the mum was concerned about her daughter becoming isolated.

She said, “During this time, I applied for a statement but the LA refused to assess her, saying the the school were meeting her needs. I didn’t appeal because I was so wrapped up with dealing with her pain and needs myself.

“She spent about two weeks in school, before it became quite apparent that her new levels of self esteem had dropped through the floor. She bacame anxious and her pain got worse. So she was signed off sick by the doctor. I was told that if a child was signed off for over a certain period they would get some help, but none arrived. So during November and December she remained at home, waiting patiently for her medical appointment in January, which we have waited for since July. The school sent her a few SATs papers.

“After an understandable meltdown in the hospital and the trauma of the whole experience of day surgery, she returned to school a couple of weeks later and lasted three and a half days. She was signed off again with anxiety and pain but without any firm diagnosis that would satisfy the LA that we had new information to reapply for a statement.”

After seeing a different specialist, she has now been given the diagnosis she needs but is still out of school. The diagnosis means that she can now, however, access out of school education. The LEA has now agreed to assess but only after putting this family through an incredibly stressful year of relentless rounds of school and medical appointments as they tried to convince someone to help their daughter. The young lady was, during all this time, in a lot of pain.

Still, it’s not over yet the mum says, “I just hope we do get a statement so fingers crossed, and in the meantime I’ll learn all about tribunals just in case we don’t!”

Will the new Green Paper make things easier? Will it really put the child at the centre and bring together health, education and care? We’re still waiting for the government’s document, “The Way Forward” to be published, despite it being ‘imminent’ since February.

The only way a reformed system can work is if all the services do work together for the good of the child and on top of that, if the family or carers supporting the child are in turn, supported themselves. It seems like such a no-brainer, so why does it just never seem to happen?

Act now for a chance to learn more about SEN – for just £36 including lunch!

There are just four days left to secure the early bird price for this year’s Towards a Positive Future SEN conference in Newbury.

The conference takes place on June 16th and I’m honoured to be one of the keynote speakers,. NAS president Jane Asher will be leading a Q & A session and other speakers include special needs, legal, education and disability experts.

The conference is for anyone who lives or works with children and young people with SEN and disabilities. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about how to help your child or children you care for and to speak to other parents and experts.

There will be separate seminars dealing with dyslexia, autism and the implications of the green paper. See the full programme details here.

Early bird tickets are just £36 for parents – which considering most conferences are into the hundreds is an incredible deal. Early bird professional tickets are £72.

Book now to avoid disappointment. The event is at the Arlington Arts Centre in Newbury and parking is free. Lunch and refreshments are included.

The conference is sponsored by, among others, SEN Magazine and Pearson Assessment.

The conference organiser, Janet O’Keefe, said, “This conference will focus on what we know works and how this can continue to work whatever the future political or legal system we find ourselves under in the coming months and years. Our aim is that parents of children with special educational needs and the professionals that support them are as informed as possible about the Green Paper, forthcoming changes and future implications on health, education and social care funding so that they can navigate the system successfully.”

For online booking, click here

Government Urged To Ensure SEN Appeal System Is Made Less Intimidating

Many families experience an intimidating process when they appeal against local authority decisions regarding special educational needs provision for vulnerable children, says speech and language therapist Janet O’Keefe, who attends many tribunals as an expert witness.

Janet says that special educational needs and disability tribunals are organised by the Ministry of Justice as part of the court system and their hearings are often heard in magistrates’ courts, asylum and immigration buildings, or social security offices which is very stressful for parents who have not done anything wrong other than disagree with the provision proposed to support their child by the local authority responsible for meeting their special educational needs.

This issue will be one of the topics under discussion at a conference called Towards a Positive Future, which Janet is holding in Newbury, Berkshire on Saturday, 16 June, where speakers will include Jane Asher, president of the National Autistic Society.

Janet, who founded Wordswell (Speech and Language Therapy Services) near Ely, Cambridgeshire, says the event is aimed at parents of children with special education needs and the professionals who support them. Janet will be speaking about the daunting and intimidating process of appeal for parents.

Janet says: “It’s disappointing that local authorities do not seem to be currently negotiating with parents, which results in more appeal hearings and higher legal costs for those parents who use expensive specialist solicitors and barristers to represent them. On average I have attended two tribunal hearings a month as an expert witness for speech and language therapy; in January 2012, there were 12 in the diary and I attended eight.

“Since all tribunals came under the Ministry of Justice, hearings have had to be held in government buildings instead of hotels or dedicated tribunal buildings to save money.  This means that instead of a formal business meeting, special education appeal hearings are now held in magistrates’ courts, asylum and immigration buildings, or social security offices.  Often there is security on the door like an airport to scan and search all bags and people entering the building. The whole process is increasingly stressful – and all because parents dared to disagree with the provision the local authorities are offering to support their child who through no fault of their own has special educational needs.

“The legal costs have also escalated for parents who seek legal representation. Just five years ago parents were telling me that their legal bill was on average £7,000, now they are telling me it is more than £20,000.”

Tania Tirraoro, a mother of two autistic sons, Luca, 14, and Giorgio, 12, and author of Special Educational Needs – Getting Started with Statements, believes a much more conciliatory approach is required which would involve a huge culture shift away from the present process so the focus is on the special educational needs of the child, and not the local authority’s budget.

Tania belongs to Family Voice Surrey, a parent carer group to help form the new SEN structure where pathfinder trials are taking place.

She says: “The system has been adversarial for far too long, and it’s not just the framework that needs to change to improve things, but the attitudes of some LEA staff to dealing with stressed and vulnerable parents. Even as the trials are getting underway, parents using the existing system are still being subjected to unnecessary expense preparing for tribunals that the LEA backs out of at the last minute, inadequate proposed statements and fights over placements. A change here would make the biggest difference of all.

“There are many fine ideals in the green paper, but the most important thing is that the pathfinder trials must show that they are workable on a large scale and do, in fact, improve the lives of children with SEN and their families.”

Jane Asher, president of the National Autistic Society, says: “I am very much looking forward to coming to Wordswell’s conference – anything that can help to promote understanding, support and the need for the right education for those on the autistic spectrum is always close to my heart.

“After over 30 years of working with the National Autistic Society I still continue to learn more about this complex condition all the time, and I know I will enjoy meeting the parents, carers, professionals and those with autism themselves who will gather to exchange experiences and to help improve the lives of all those affected. “

Janet has edited a book which was launched at last October’s Conference called ‘Towards a Positive Future: stories, ideas and inspiration from children with special educational needs, their families and professionals’ which includes practical information and support for parents and expert witnesses.

The conference is being held at the Arlington Arts Centre in Newbury on Saturday, 16 June. Early bird tickets cost £80, and £100 after 1 May, and can be booked by calling 01954 253525, or email janetokeefe@wordswell.co.uk 

Please see www.wordswell.co.uk for further information.

Ends.

Notes to editors:

  1. For photos or interview requests, please contact media officer Ellee Seymour on 01353 648564, 07939 811961, or email ellee.seymour@btopenworld.com
  2. Full details of the green paper for special educational needs, please see the Department for Education, http://www.education.gov.uk/childrenandyoungpeople/sen/a0075339/sengreenpaper

I want your statementing stories

I get emails from lots of people with questions about statementing and I do my best to answer them within the best of my knowledge or signpost them to someone who can. I also read lots of stories on message boards from people going through the process who are looking for information or other people’s experiences and so I’ve had an idea.

If you’ve been through the statementing journey with one or more of your children, I’d like to hear from you. Sharing stories can help other people on the same journey and helping people by raising awareness is what this blog is all about. If you’d like to share your story with others via the Special Needs Jungle blog, please email it to me (Tania) at info@specialneedsjungle.com. If you’d like more information before committing, drop me a line. Also, if you have any burning ideas for topics you’d like to see covered, send them in.

Post are usually less than a thousand words and I’d love to include a photo if you wish and/or, if you have your own blog, a link to it. If you’d prefer to remain anonymous, you can change the key names in the story.

I may need to edit for length or legal reasons (we don’t want to libel anyone – even though they may well deserve to be named and shamed!)

Over the next few months, I’ll be writing more about the new SEN process as it develops – there will be more news from central government soon, maybe in the next week or so. Make sure you subscribe by email to the blog so you don’t miss any updates!

Thanks!

Tania

Blogs, News & View in Special Needs this week

Wandering the special needs web this week, I found the following blogs and news stories you might be interested in. Also, if you think Special Needs Jungle is a “brilliant blog”, I’d be super-grateful if you would please vote for http://www.specialneedsjungle.com in the  BritMums blog awards in the CHANGE category. Thanks!

Exciting news – a conference speaking invitation

I have exciting news – I am to be a keynote speaker at the forthcoming SEN Conference, Towards a Positive Future that is to take place in Newbury in June. I will be talking about being a parent of two sons with autism and how parents-carer forums such as Family Voice Surrey, of which I am a committee member, are helping to shape SEN services with the SEN Green paper pathfinders. Surrey will be trialing, among other areas, the proposed Education Health and Care Plan for which I attended a day-long meeting yesterday.

Apparently, children with existing SEN statements will not automatically be moved to an EHCP although their parents can request it. They may be moved at a transition point if appropriate, however.

It is clear from the meeting that there is much work to be done and in a relatively short time as it is expected the new procedures will be brought in by 2013/14. There are some positive proposals and still a lot of detail to be worked out, but the general principle is that the child and family should be at the centre of the process. It’s not very clear to me why this isn’t already the case.

The whole system at the moment is adversarial and there is much distrust on both sides, so to make the new process succeed there needs to be a major cultural shift towards working together for the benefit of the child. At the moment LEAs are (rightly or wrongly) seen as penny-pinching, budget-not-child focused parent-haters who are determined to give as little as they can get away with. LEA staff, meanwhile see some parents as just trying to bag a statement to get their children into the best schools that cost the council hundreds of thousands of pounds a year when (the LEA feels) local provision would do just as well. There are many parents left vastly out-of-pocket by legal fees as they pursue the most appropriate option for their child.

Personally, I can’t understand why any parent would head into the stressful, potentially expensive jungle of statementing unless their child has significant needs that are not being met within current school resources – I mean, why would you put yourself through that? Every parent I have encountered who is seeking a statement has experienced their child going through years of difficulties, under-achievement and unhappiness before they become convinced that this is the only route. I’m sure there are exceptions, but they must be just that – exceptions.

Anyway, by the conference in June I expect some parents will have been recruited for the trials and we will have more detail of how the final system will look. Other speakers include the National Autistic Society president, Jane Asher, Janet O’Keefe, editor of “Towards a Positive Future”, Educational Lawyer, Clive Rawlings and Kevin Geeson of Dyslexia Action among others.

Below is a link to a booking form that you can use with all the details on.

Towards_a_Positive_Future_Conference_2012_flyer

Labour SEN Policy Review – want to get involved?

This is taken from the website of Sharon Hodgson MP, but I thought it might be useful to post it here too, in case anyone hasn’t seen it and wants to get involved. I am already involved in a meeting on Monday for the Surrey Pathfinder trials for the proposed EHCP but this looks like an interesting opportunity for anyone interested in helping Labour form its own updated SEN policy:

_____________

SPECIAL EDUCATIONAL NEEDS – POLICY REVIEW, 2012

The Labour Party are seeking your views on how to build on the work of the last decade in improving educational outcomes for children and young people with specialeducational needs and disabilities, to inform their policies in the run-up to the next general election.

Review Panel :

  • Sharon Hodgson MP, Shadow Minister for Children and Families (Chair);
  • Cllr Luke Akehurst, Hackney Council and Labour Party National Executive Committee member;
  • Cllr Richard Watts, Executive Member for Children, Islington Council;
  • Alex Cunningham MP, Education Select Committee Member;
  • Young people’s representatives (tbc).

Purpose and aims

The review seeks to bring together children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities and their parents or carers, as well as those involved in providing for their needs, and those who champion better services and outcomes for them, to achieve the following aims:

  •  To examine the current landscape of provision for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities, including highlighting examples of current best practice.
  •  To crystallise opinions on the Department for Education’s ‘Support and Aspiration’ Green Paper;
  • To work towards a clear pledge of what children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities and their parents or carers should be able to expect from education, health and social care services in identifying and providing for their needs.
  • To generate, and provide a basis for the development of, new and innovative ideas to improve the identification of and provision for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities, while achieving the best possible use of limited resources.

Timeline

The review will be held over four distinct evidence sessions:

Session 1 – The Green Paper and next steps

Tuesday 28 Feb, 11.00-13.00, Committee Room 5, House of Commons

Scope: General discussion on the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats from the government’s ‘Support and Aspiration’ Green Paper.

Ideal contributors: Any individuals, groups or organisations with an interest in the future of SEN provision.

Session 2 – Teacher training and specialist professionals

Tuesday 6 Mar, 4.30-6.30, Committee Room 5, House of Commons

Scope: Exploring ways of improving knowledge and expertise withing the education workforce, including whether to increase the time given over to SEN in initial teacher training and continuous professional development/INSET days, building on what is in the Green Paper on encouraging up-skilling.

Ideal contributors: Representatives of teachers/headteachers and early years professionals, ITT/CPD providers, local authorities, specialist staff.

Session 3 – Identification and provision

Tuesday 20 Mar, 5.30-7.30, Committee Room 8, House of Commons

Scope: How best to identify and provide for children with SENs, and establishing what parents and children should be able to expect from the various agencies involved in doing so.

Ideal contributors: Parents and young people, representatives of teachers/headteachers and early years professionals, local authorities, academies/free schools and PVI special schools/settings.

Session 4 – Accountability and the role of local authorities

Tuesday 27 Mar, 4.30-6.30, Committee Room 5, House of Commons

Scope: How to bring accountability back to provision, including what the role of local authorities should be, and what parents should be able to expect from it.

Ideal contributors: Local authorities, charities, parents and young people.

Following these evidence sessions, a report and recommendations will be drafted for submission to the Labour Party’s National Policy Forum, where they will then go forward for discussion at Annual Conference in the Autumn.

Conclusions reached will also form the basis of how Labour responds to future legislation and policies brought forward by the Government.

How to get involved

1. Attend a session

If you are interested in attending or speaking to any of the above evidence sessions, please e-mail sharon.hodgson.mp@parliament.uk stating:

– who you are representing (if not as an individual),

– which session(s) you would like to attend,

– and giving a brief outline of the points you want to make.

The review is particularly keen to hear from children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities and their parents or carers on their first-hand experiences of getting the support they need.

2. Send us your stories and ideas

If you do not wish or are not able to attend any of the sessions, you can still get involved by submitting your thoughts on, and experiences of, the SEN system tosharon.hodgson.mp@parliament.uk  in the same way.

Important notes

Ideally, requests to attend should be made at least 5 working days in advance of the date of the session, although allowances will be made if the session is undersubscribed; however, presenters will be finalised by said cut-off of 5 working days.

The capacity for each session is 50 people, with a maximum of 8 being invited to give a short presentation – following presentations, the floor will be opened to everyone else.

Where sessions are over-subscribed, every effort will be made to ensure as broad a range of attendees as possible, and confirmation of your place will be provided as soon as possible.

Sessions will be presided over by the Chair of the review panel or, if a division is called, another member thereof.  As time in the sessions is limited, it is requested that attendees give consideration to other attendees in the length of their contribution, and in not interrupting other contributions.

The Committee Corridor is wheelchair-accessible, and a limited amount of parking is available for those with disabilities – by prior arrangement.  Please state in your e-mail if you have any special requirements, and every effort will be made to cater for them.

All submissions will be retained and used as a basis for the final report.

Discussions and presentations at the evidence sessions are on the record – detailed notes will be taken, and you and any organisation you represent may be quoted in the final report and supporting documents, unless you specifically request otherwise.  Similarly, any submissions received will be regarded as eligible for publication unless you explicitly state otherwise.

The closing date for submissions is March 31st. Applications and emails should preferably be typed and submitted by email, but they may also be posted to the following address if you do not have access to a computer:

SEN Policy Review

c/o Sharon Hodgson MP

House of Commons

London SW1A 0AA

Any questions or clarifications can be sought by email at the address given, or by phone on 020 7219 0266.